April 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

West Orange Resident Donates Kidney

Ilene Strauss, a West Orange resident and middle school teacher at Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) Academy in the Bronx, says she never considered becoming a kidney donor until one day last spring. Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, the rabbi at Congregation Beth Aaron in Teaneck, had returned to speak at Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, where he had previously been the assistant rabbi. Rabbi Rothwachs had recently donated a kidney to a fellow Teaneck resident through Renewal, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people suffering from various forms of kidney disease, with a special focus on saving lives through kidney donation. As she sat in shul listening to Rabbi Rothwachs speak, Strauss says, “I thought to myself, ‘This is something that I want to do.””

According to Renewal, about 60,000 people in the United States start treatment for kidney failure each year. Patients are kept alive either through dialysis—which generally entails being hooked up to a machine that cleans the blood, usually three times a week—or by receiving a transplanted kidney. According to most statistics, 50 percent of dialysis patients will not survive more than five years. With several thousand people in New Jersey on the waiting list for a kidney, the average wait time is four years; Renewal aims to find a matching donor in less than six months. All of Renewal’s donors are Jewish, as are the vast majority of the recipients. Renewal provides guidance and support for both the donor and recipient throughout the entire process, from initial testing through recovery. The organization is funded entirely by donations and provides all services at no charge to the donor. Strauss recalls that any anxiety that she felt on the morning of her surgery was alleviated after speaking with the past kidney donor that Renewal had sent to drive her to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center for the procedure. She quickly recovered from the laparoscopic procedure and was back at work within a few weeks. While at the hospital she had the opportunity to meet the recipient, who was extraordinarily grateful. “She said, ‘I have a life like everybody else now,”” Strauss recalls.

While it is easy to be in awe of Strauss’s amazing act of chesed, she is not looking for credit or admiration. “This is not about me,” she insists. “This is about this organization and what they’re doing.” She says that when she went to speak with Rabbi Rothwachs when making her decision to donate a kidney, she learned that she was the fourth person that he had inspired to do so—essentially, his decision to become a kidney donor had saved at least five lives. “My goal is to educate people and let them know that there is a tremendous need out there.” Strauss says she was surprised to learn how often a stranger can be a match for kidney donation, even when one’s own family members are not. “It is humbling that just a normal person can do such a thing and save a life—you don’t have to be Superman.”

To support Renewal or learn more, please visit http://www.life-renewal.org.

By Rachel Jager

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